WASHINGTON — Suicide among American servicemembers and veterans has reached a dire level—representing a crisis throughout our military ranks and communities across the nation. Every man and woman who has served in our armed forces is a hero.
However, their service did not come without a cost, and many face unique challenges brought on by their service. Unfortunately, those challenges often manifest as mental health issues and, in too many cases, lead to suicide.
Tragically, the families and friends of three 10th Mountain Division soldiers are experiencing tremendous loss after these soldiers all took their lives in the span of a three-day period this September. This is a wake-up call to the epidemic of military suicide.
Mental health in the military and for our veterans can no longer be ignored. It is the obligation of the government and Congress to fulfill its duty to our current and former servicemembers who have made incredible sacrifices to keep us safe.
We must ensure our military community has access to the resources necessary to grapple with mental health struggles to prevent further suicides. I remain committed to working with both the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to provide the necessary resources to address this troubling issue.
What our community has experienced at Fort Drum is not an isolated event. In September, the DoD released its annual suicide report showing that 580 servicemembers died by suicide last year.
This shocking number becomes more severe when combined with the VA’s report of 6,261 veteran suicides in 2019. It is clear we must double our efforts to reduce suicide and address mental health across our military.
We have a long road ahead of us, but reducing veteran and military suicide remains a top priority of mine in the U.S. House of Representatives. During this Congress, I have co-sponsored multiple pieces of legislation to address this.
They include the Connecting the Community to End Military Suicide Act (HR 4882), REACH for Veterans Act (HR 5073), Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act (HR 5352) and Improving Servicemember Transition to Reduce Veteran Suicide Act (HR 2778). By providing resources and support to servicemembers and veterans in crisis, we can reduce these preventable instances of self-harm and provide our brave men and women with the help they deserve.
Additionally, we must reduce barriers and stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment. Mental health is just as important as every other aspect of our well-being. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength — not one of weakness or unworthiness.
Over the past two years, I have worked diligently with my colleagues to promote mental health and pass legislation to support suicide prevention and mental health awareness in the military and for our veterans. I also have compiled a comprehensive list of resources below that are readily available to assist any servicemember, veteran or family member who may need help. Many of these resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I am grateful for the courageous men and women who have answered our nation’s call to serve. Now it is America’s turn to serve them.
If you or someone you care about is in crisis, please use one of these resources. Our nation will never forget the sacrifices of our brave soldiers.
Some resources to support our veterans and servicemembers —
Specific resources for the 21st Congressional District:
n Fort Drum Behavioral Health: (315) 772-2778
n Jefferson County Crisis Response: (315) 782-2327
n Jefferson County Mobile Crisis Services: (315) 788-0970
n U.S. Military Crisis Line: Call 800-273-8255 (press 1), or visit http://www.militaryonesource.mil/
n Military/Veteran Crisis Lines: Call 800-273-8255 (press 1) or 800-342-9647, or chat online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/; text 838255
n National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or (TTY) 800-799-4889. This hot line is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service. Or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
n Psychological Health Center of Excellence: Chat with the Real Warriors Live Chat from a trained health resource consultant is ready to assist: https://chat.magellanhealth.com/Cutesoft_Client/CuteChat/DCOE_SupportClient.aspx---
n War Veterans Call Center: 877-WAR-VETS (877-927-8387) for Combat Veterans and their families
n Women Veterans Call Center: 855-VA-Women (1-855-829-6636); https://www.womenshealth.va.gov/
Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, serves the 21st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her assignments include Armed Services, Education and Labor, and the Select Committee on Intelligence.